Young Turks Losing Their Religion

Young Turks Losing Their Religion June 11, 2019

Recently, I posted about how Turkey is facing a move away from religion (“Is Turkey, under Erdogan, Becoming More Atheistic?“) even given the increasing politically enforced religionism in the country. From it, DW reported:

According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists. Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.

“There is religious coercion in Turkey,” said 36-year-old computer scientist Ahmet Balyemez, who has been an atheist for over 10 years. “People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam?” he added. “When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam.”

Balyemez said he grew up in a very religious family. “Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me,” he said. But then, at some point, he decided to become an atheist.

Diyanet, Turkey’s official directorate of religious affairs, declared in 2014 that more than 99 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. When Konda’s recent survey with evidence to the contrary was published, heated public debate ensued.

The theologian Cemil Kilic believes that both figures are correct. Though 99 percent of Turks are Muslim, he said, many only practice the faith in a cultural and sociological sense. They are cultural, rather than spiritual, Muslims….

For nearly 16 years under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, Turkish officials have increasingly used Islam to justify their politics — possibly increasing the skepticism surrounding faith in government. “People reject the predominant interpretation of Islam, the sects, religious communities, the directorate of religious affairs and those in power,” he said. “They do not want this kind of religion and this official form of piousness.” This, Kilic said, could help explain why so many Turks now identify as atheists.

Selin Ozkohen, who heads Ateizm Dernegi, Turkey’s main association for atheists, said Erdogan’s desire to produce a generation of devout Muslims had backfired in many ways. “Religious sects and communities have discredited themselves,” she said. “We have always said that the state should not be ruled by religious communities, as this leads to people questioning their faith and becoming humanist atheists.”

Read the rest here. Although anecdotal in form, there has been an interesting article on the BBC documenting the move away from religion of some young Turks. Here is a taster:

“This is the only thing left that connects me to Islam,” says Merve, showing me her bright red headscarf.

Merve teaches religion to elementary school children in Turkey. She says she used to be a radical believer of Islam.

“Until recently, I would not even shake hands with men,” she tells me in an Istanbul cafe. “But now I do not know whether there is a God or not, and I really do not care.”

In the 16 years that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party has been in power, the number of religious high schools across Turkey has increased more than tenfold.

He has repeatedly talked of bringing up a pious generation.

But over the past few weeks, politicians and religious clerics here have been discussing whether pious young people have started to move away from religion.

One day, Merve’s life changed when, after waking up very depressed, she cried for hours and decided to pray.

As she prayed, she realised to her shock that she doubted God’s existence. “I thought I would either go crazy or kill myself,” she says. “The next day I realised I had lost my faith.”

She is not alone. One professor has been quoted as saying that more than a dozen female students wearing headscarves have come up to him to declare they are atheists in the past year or so….

Turkey’s only atheism association believes Prof Aybar is wrong about the current trend and claims that even atheist imams exist.

“Here, there are television shows that debate what to do to atheists,” says its spokesman Saner Atik. “Some say they should be killed, that they should be sliced to pieces.”

“It takes a lot of courage to say you are an atheist under these circumstances. There are women in niqabs who secretly confess they are atheists, but they cannot take them off because they are scared of their family or their environment.”

I meet Merve for a second time at home. She greets me without her headscarf. She has decided to let her hair down when she is at home. Even if there are men around.

“The first time I met a man without my headscarf, I felt really awkward,” she tells me. “But now it comes all very naturally. This is who I am now.”

For an anthology of deconversion accounts, see my book Beyond an Absence of Faith (UK).

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